When Kansas has the ball
Kansas rush offense vs. Oklahoma rush defense
KU coach Charlie Weis has a question: Anyone want to question James Sims’ ability to run the football anymore? After missing the first three games of the season because of a suspension, Sims has come back with a vengeance and looked like one of the best backs in the Big 12. His 344 yards in three games would place him sixth in the conference, with all other runners in the Big 12 having played at least five games this season. Last week, during KU’s close-call loss against Oklahoma State, Sims outdueled OSU’s Joseph Randle 138 yards to 80 and one touchdown to none. KU’s running game has been solid all season, and with Sims hitting his stride and speed back Tony Pierson expected back from injury, it seems safe to suggest that the Jayhawks will be able to run the ball every week, even this week against the Sooners.
Kansas pass offense vs. Oklahoma pass defense
This much we know: KU plans to play both struggling starter Dayne Crist and electric back-up Michael Cummings today against the Sooners. How that impacts KU’s passing game remains to be seen, but considering the fact that Crist rarely has found much of a rhythm during games, even if they played every other series, it should not do much to hurt KU’s passing attack. What could prove problematic, however, is Cummings’ smaller stature and Oklahoma’s nasty secondary. The Sooners rank 11th nationally in pass defense and have limited opponents to just 171 yards per game through the air.
When Oklahoma has the ball
Oklahoma rush offense vs. Kansas rush defense
The Jayhawks’ front seven was spectacular last week against Randle, as defensive coordinator Dave Campo took advantage of rough weather conditions and correctly predicted that, because of the wet track, the Cowboys would try to run up the middle a lot. It rarely worked, as the OSU standout and Big 12’s leading rusher averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in the 20-14 victory. While that certainly represented a step in the right direction for the KU defense, it’s hardly enough to say the Jayhawks have arrived. KU has given up 201 yards per game on the ground to opponents so far this season, including 346 yards and six TDs to Kansas State just one week earlier. This week, they’ll face another workhorse in OU junior Damien Williams, who ranks second in the Big 12 with 102 yards per game and has six touchdowns to go along with it. Add to that the presence of run-first backup QB Blake Bell, and KU looks to have its hands full this weekend.
Oklahoma pass offense vs. Kansas pass defense
Last week, the Jayhawks slowed down Oklahoma State’s potent pass attack to the tune of 255 yards and one touchdown. Their reward? A date today with Oklahoma’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdown passes and completions: senior quarterback Landry Jones. Jones got off to a slow start this season, but has more than made up for it in recent weeks. Last week, in a rout of Texas, he threw for 321 yards and two TDs, and a week earlier he tossed two more TDs and threw for 259 yards in a beatdown of Texas Tech. Jones’ biggest strengths are his size, experience and decision-making. The fact he has multiple weapons around him who can hurt opposing defenses short and long only adds to the challenge of trying to stop him.
Oklahoma kicker Mike Hunnicutt leads the Big 12 in field-goal percentage, having made seven of his eight field-goal tries (88 percent) and 25 of his 27 extra-point attempts. In addition, the Sooners feature one of the top punters in the league — Tress Way — and a dynamic group of kick-return options led by wide receivers Kenny Stills and Roy Finch. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, still are reeling in the kicking game, with place kicker Ron Doherty having hit just five of 10 field-goal tries this season, including a miss on a 24-yard attempt. It got so bad for KU that Weis actually elected to fake a field goal from the 18-yard line instead of taking the points last week. Doherty has been replaced by sophomore Nick Prolago on field goals and extra points but has regained his job as the Jayhawks’ punter.